ESTATE PLANNING 101: What is a Living Will?
Simply put, a living will is a document that outlines what you want to happen, medically, if you can’t speak for yourself. But creating a comprehensive living will is not simple.
Living wills are not just for the elderly or sick. Because something as simple as a bike accident can render you in coma, all adults should have a living will. Without one, not only will your medical treatment be up for interpretation, your medical treatment could cause serious divisions in your family as to the course of treatment you would want.
The DNR (do not resuscitate) statement is the most basic of living wills. A DNR statement can be added to your medical records by your physician. A comprehensive living will, however, typically includes additional, more detailed statements that are best constructed by a lawyer familiar with the intricacies of medical options.
Instead of a living will, you should ask your attorney to help you create an advance directive. An advance directive is a living will that will give direction for your medical care in the majority of medical circumstances. Typically an advance directive will include instructions for resuscitation, use of mechanical ventilation (artificial breathing), nutrition and hydration (feeding tube), and dialysis.
A comprehensive living will, or advance directive, will also include naming a medical power of attorney (POA) or a health care agent. Because it’s difficult for one document (living will, advance directive) to specify instructions for all possible medical problems, you should name a person to think, speak, and act on your behalf. Your lawyer will guide you in selecting the right person. Typically, your health care agent will be a friend or family member with whom you have had frank conversations. Your health care agent will have to be someone who can made difficult decisions in the face of crisis and opposition from other friends and family.
Creating a living will is not easy. You should expect it to be a challenging and emotional process. Working with an experienced lawyer will give you the kind of thorough document that could eventually make future medical decisions quick and easy for your family.